Letters to the Editor

Grading issue

November 23, 2011


To the editor:

Why have more than 200 people to date signed the online petition “Stop Standards-Based Grading in USD 497 Middle Schools” via the website change.org? Because when people learn about the many changes that have been made by district administrators recently, and the problems created as a result, they know they must send the message that the current situation is unacceptable.

This space does not permit listing all the problems and concerns. We urge people to go to the Facebook page “USD 497 Concerned Community” where they can link to an outline of these issues. Concerns with standards-based grading in middle schools include: It doesn’t motivate students to do their best and it de-emphasizes crucial work habits such as meeting deadlines and studying for tests. And any student or parent who has accessed Skyward (the district’s online reporting system) in the past would not recognize it for today’s sixth-graders. The information is terribly confusing and inadequate, and parents don’t know where kids need help.  

Learn more online. Attend the district’s “informational discussions” at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at Southwest Middle School and 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.  Send the message that these many problems ought to be corrected.


Megan King 6 years, 7 months ago

way to go ladies! I hope other parents take the time to look at the information provided here. Is the School Board aware of any of this? Let's hope the upcoming meetings allow for the parents to actually ask some important questions, and get some much needed answers.

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 7 months ago

This is not factual information about standards-based grading. Be sure to look further for more information and don't limit yourself to a one sided opinion. Be informed!

Jayhawks64 6 years, 7 months ago

Unlike the theoretical world that the likes of Ken O'Connor lives in, these examples of how poorly SBG works comes from districts around the country that have dropped SBG. These anti-SBG examples also come from real life experiences, observations and comments from parents and teachers in USD 497!

chopchop1969 6 years, 7 months ago

Factual information: This system, the USD 497 system, utilizes zero math to figure grades. I have never heard of any good measurement system that fails to utilize math. The Skyward system being used for 6th grade is incapable of calculating anything. How can you consider USD 497's SBG system and objective measure of progress when it doesn't use some form of math? Somebody please tell me how that makes sense beyond 2nd grade???

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 7 months ago

There are also many websites that show examples of success stories with SBG. No, it does not average scores or use math to calculate grades. It is different and new, this does not equal bad. SB is looking for mastery of a standard not a number. The standard is written on the grade card. Got an A in math? What was learned? Skyward doesn't need to calculate anything.

chopchop1969 6 years, 6 months ago

Different and new doesn't necessarily indicated "bad," you are correct. But a system that is not clearly defined by consistent marks of progress (which requires some form of numbers and math when you get right down to it), makes no sense. It lacks consistency, and above all, it communicates little if you do not associate numerical data with it.

What is mastery? How do you measure it? How does the next person measure it? How do the nine-fifteen teachers a student will see in one school year at the middle level do it consistently and in a way that is communicated clearly with parents? How does this provide a clear communication tool for our students as they get ready for high school?

How does a teacher clearly and consistently separate out standards on each assignment in the upper elementary and middle levels when the standards overlap and are so interwoven? Is a teacher to take five different marks for one "event" plus an overall mark to keep track of progress? This is what you should be expecting, but is that a reasonable expectation of our teachers? Sorry for the pun, but do the math on that one.

You say that you do not understand what an "A" means, yet nearly all of us understand it gives indication that your student/my student/all students got nine out of ten questions right on their paper/test/etc Then, as a parent, you go over that assignment with your student. Seems to make sense to me.

What does "S" mean to you? How does it motivate your child? How does "T" motivate the children that you say that this system is set up to support? I can't buy that it does.

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 7 months ago

Link #1 http://www.blscourierherald.com/news/124435419.html Link #2 http://pubs.cde.ca.gov/tcsii/ch1/grdstndrdbasdrptng.aspx Link #3 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/oct08/vol66/num02/Seven_Reasons_for_Standards-Based_Grading.aspx Link #4 http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/350-rethinking-report-cards.gs?page=1 I can give you more links, they are not that hard to find. I can give you more if you want them but I'm guessing you won't look at these. I've looked at your petition and many articles against and for SBG. I'm not sure what DIST means by "so as to include", but LPS is looking for the means to help ALL students be successful, not just the above average ones. SBG helps kids stay in school by finding success, not seeking to flunk them out.
You'd have to ask them, but I don't think any school system is seeking mediocrity. Do you propose that LPS separate the "dumb" kids from the "smart" kids? Your kids must be one of the "smart" ones; mine, too but without standards, I have no idea what she has mastered. I hope it shows when state testing comes along. Standards create a rigorous curriculum that is the same for all students. The district can't "dumb" down a curriculum with standards because a kid is perceived as not being smart enough. So what do you mean by "It seems that SBG is simply a way to broaden inclusion of mediocre performance so as to include poorer performers with above average performers"? I'm interested in understanding this statement.

sugarmonkey 6 years, 6 months ago

I read your articles. Here is a synopsis of your supporting argument.

Link #1: This school just started using this system this year 2011-12 so there is no evidence it is successful.

Link#2: Again, this is all theory based with no evidential support for success. Just schools in California who support this "theory"

Link #3 Good explanation of SBG however, I find it quite humorous that the article specifically states that it reduces the amount of meaningless paperwork. All the 6th grade teachers at West, 30 teachers from south and the majority of the teachers at Southwest all wrote to the district to express their concerns, flaws, and discontent.There is a much bigger time commitment involved in this process. Also, if not all homework is assessed what is the motivation to do it? Why are we not listening to the majority of the teachers?

Link #4- this one is the best. This article talk about why SBG is good for 5th graders and elementary students. In fact, it states that it is not good for middle school and high school. I don't believe anyone will disagree that SBG is ok for elementary schools It is middle school and high school that we are concerned about. Here is what your link says:

"Why don't we see standards-based report cards in middle or high school?

Although states have standards for middle and high school classes, there are many challenges to using a standards-based report card at these levels. Mead suggested that middle and high school teachers think their method of averaging scores to get letter grades is fair and precise in contrast to looking at pieces of work and deciding whether they are advanced, proficient, basic or below basic. She believes most middle and high schools need to focus on developing standards-based instruction and assessments before they will be ready to use standards-based report cards."

Once again, the district is using a theory to base our entire system upon. SBG is good for elementary. No 4th grader should receive an "F", however, we are preparing students for high school (one of the reasons Dr. Doll stated for transitioning 6th graders to middle school). Standards do not provide more information to the parents, and teachers are already teaching to the standards because of no child left behind. We need to better support kids in the bottom 10 or 15% who are struggling. No doubt about it. However, changing the entire system will demotivate the remaining 85% and be detrimental in high school.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 6 months ago

HOTH, Read the links. Thanks for helping to solidify our argument against SBG in middle and high school. Especially link #4.

Windemere 6 years, 6 months ago

There's no question that there is subjective teacher opinion in both SBG and traditional letter grading. The reasons that traditional letter grading is preferred by a lot of parents in this district include: 1) it helps more kids stay motivated to achieve academically than does SBG (no research to back this up, but the reason over 200 people have signed the petition is due in large part to the fact that parents have EXPERIENCED how their kids lack motivation with SBG. Why should I do more than the minimum required -- I will just get an S anyway? Scoring 90% or higher doesn't benefit me one bit) and 2) SBG purposely plays down "learner behaviors" for the simple reason that it helps boost the percentage of kids meeting standards. It's part of No Child Left Behind. Of course, we want to help kids who are having trouble meeting standards. But SBG has too many downsides. It's bad for kids who perform in the C+ to A- range, and that's a LOT of kids. The way SBG separates out "learner behaviors" does not do kids any favors. They will move along to high school or the real world where they will find out that doing things like turning work in on time and studying to do well on a test the first time it's given (vs. getting that do-over) are important to SUCCESS. and 3) the poor teachers who are struggling with this will have less time for other things. Useful things, like helping kids individually.

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 6 months ago

You know, DIST, I don’t have any huge disagreement with what you say here…. Until you make this statement: Under SBG the "F" student, who is expected to get 60% may get the same "S" as an "A" student that is expected to get 90%. Under SBG, there is no “F” student, only students who are still working on a standard. A good teacher does not expect or accept student failure. If a student is showing 60% understanding of a standard, they do not receive an S and the kid has to keep working on it till they master it. While the other kids, who you call “A” students, move on to more advanced work. They shouldn’t get an S because they are expected to get an S. Public schools are not elitist, they educate everyone; even those who might be failing. This mediocrity you speak of does not exist because when a child succeeds on a standard, they move on to more challenging work, they go beyond the standard. Your belief about grading students is truly frightening. Our schools would fail our community if we expected failure from struggling students. Thank goodness, on this day of thanks, our schools care about these low performing students.

Windemere 6 years, 6 months ago

Also glad our schools care about low performing students. Low performing students ought to have teacher attention/school services to help them become proficient on standards. But again, SBG is not a good system for our schools because it has too many downsides (see my post above). Hanging On, do you acknowledge the truth of these points? If so, do you still think that SBG (and its combination with "letter grades" -- not really a combination at all, in reality) was the right move for the district? (And of course, though the district won't admit it at the moment, their goal is to expand SBG at least through 8th grade.)

Julia Rose-Weston 6 years, 6 months ago

Windemere, thank you for your understandable and intelligent comments. I now have a much better understanding of your group’s position. I’ve been reading all the comments, many internet articles (more than what I posted) and the petition. I’ve been talking with family, friends, teachers (some of which are middle school teachers) and students. For reasons, I’ve already mentioned, it still seems that standards-based grading is the direction our public schools should go. I reread your “points”, and I understand them, but I cannot accept them as “truths” but strongly held and valid opinions on your part. I respectfully disagree. What I don’t understand, and this does not come from you, are the anti-public school comments. I think LPS teachers do an outstanding job educating all of our kids and I believe they are trying to improve grading practices for our children. I do not believe for one minute that LPS is trying to discourage or fail our students. There is a reason they are talking standards-based grading and I don't think it is malicious. I think we’ll need to disagree on this particular issue. I continue to look for the reasons why LPS thinks it is good. I will continue reading to learn more. I’m going to look at what Marzano has to say on the subject and continue to seek more understanding. http://egusdsecondaryed.pbworks.com/f/Classroom+Assessment+and+Grading+That+Work+-+Marzano.pdf Thanks for a lively discussion.

Windemere 6 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the nice words! Hanging On, there are some extreme Libertarians who frequently post on ljworld.com and while I am sympathetic to their philosophy (I do believe that , in general, govt. that governs least governs best), the topic at hand is grading at LPS, Libertarians can't resist any platform.

I also do not believe that LPS is trying to fail or discourage any kid (at least not overtly). What I do think: The burden of mandates like No Child Left Behind put pressure on schools to make sure more kids meet "standards" so schools have an incentive to do that by either lowering standards or "bolstering" the kids most at risk for not meeting standards. The SBG grading issue is about the second, bolstering the kids at risk. Of course we want to try to help the kids at risk, as I said above.

BUT, I firmly believe based on speaking with many people about SBG (and the effect it's had in elementary) combined with what I'd call plain old common sense, that SBG is a system that does a disservice to all or most kids who, in traditional grading, would be in the C+ to A- range. The reason is, they see that kids who score 70% on a test get an S and also kids who score 100% on a test get an S. Wouldn't that likely be deflating to the kid who gets 100%? Analogy: Your job is mowing lawns for a landscaping company and you and your co-worker both make $100 a week. But over many weeks, it's clear that you mow lawns faster and better than your co-worker. But you're told you will never get a pay raise. I am guessing you'd be less motivated to work faster and better. Yes, money is different than grades/academic achievement, but the general point about incentives is the same. Maybe some people are unhappy that kids care about grades and are to some degree competitive with other kids. To me, that's like saying it's sad that some adults care about such things, e.g. in workplaces. Maybe it's not very noble, but it is what it is, and I don't think this aspect of human nature ought to be "fought." Besides, striving for excellence is a GOOD thing. Kids who are bright and talented enough to get into Harvard tend to be the kids who are driven to do research that cures diseases and do things in life that benefit us all. If they were labeled just "S" for all their schooling years, I believe they'd be less motivated.

Then there's the whole issue of the messages SBG sends about work habits (totally separated from achievement/outcomes) That's a bad message to send to kids.

Finally, kids need to be prepared for high school & college. SBG just does not cut it -- kids will be confused, colleges won't know what to do with these kids who are used to do-overs and having daily assignments be optional.

Again, my main point is that the "good" things SBG is trying to do, like help kids who are having a hard time meeting standards, could be addressed with out SBG!

Megan King 6 years, 6 months ago

Well put Widemere! We do not need SBG to help the failing kids-the teachers already do extra for those children at the middle school level with out the expectation SBG places on them. This all stems from No Child Left Behind which the Government is finally realizing is an impossibility! So why are we using a grading system set up for a failing idea? SBG only gives the false appearance that children are not failing, so that on paper the school districts look like they have high levels of achievement and get their government money. As stated before SBG lacks motivation and does not prepare children for the real world. HoldingOnToHope is Holding on for hope their children will actually get into college with this grading system. Good luck!

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